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Pierce County inspections: No sense in looking back

Post by Kim Bradford on April 2, 2009 at 7:44 pm |
April 2, 2009 7:44 pm

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

The new assessor-treasurer seems to want to cement his indictment of his predecessor, but there is nothing more to be gained.

Shame on Ken Madsen, Pierce County’s former assessor-treasurer, for not doing the property inspections required of his office. Double shame on him for lying to the state about it.

Now that that’s out of the way, can the county’s new assessor-treasurer focus his attention on the business at hand? Dale Washam, in office just three months, risks getting derailed in a bullheaded pursuit of an already vanquished foe.

To say Washam doesn’t like Madsen would be an understatement. After losing two elections to Madsen, Washam tried to get him thrown out of office. That effort failed, but Washam won in the end.

In a surprise upset last November, Washam beat out three more qualified candidates for Madsen’s open position. Then he promptly produced evidence of what he had been alleging for years: that Madsen allowed his office to skip physical inspections of county properties required by state law.

Vindication tastes good, and Washam apparently wants a couple more helpings.

He’s condemning a county audit report that confirms the property inspections should have been done, but also downplays the harm caused.

As is the case with much that Washam says, he’s right up to a point.

Someone who built an addition onto their house without a building permit was likely to pay less than he should have owed. In many cases, those taxes don’t just go uncollected; the burden is shunted to other taxpayers whose properties are fairly assessed. The effect may come down to pennies, but it’s real.

So far, so good. But Washam’s also requested the state auditor and attorney general "commence a full investigation, as to any violations of state law, as it pertains to the 228,140 physical inspections for the years 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 that were never done."

To what end? No one is disputing that the property inspections should have been done. But the only remedy is to conduct inspections from here on out. The county’s prosecuting attorney’s office says there is no legal authority for an assessor to change past property values.

Washam successfully used property inspections to make a case that his office should be spared the size of budget cuts facing other county departments. What more could he want, other than to prove once and for all that Ken Madsen was an inept assessor-treasurer, as Washam has long contended.

What’s the point? Madsen has left public office. The skipped property inspections are a stain on his record, but not punishable offenses.

Washam has more important things to work on. His appraisers have, if not the highest, some of the highest workloads in the state. And his office, while it might have spared the worse of the budget ax, will have to absorb a $150,000 cut.

Washam should leave well enough alone and concentrate on running the present-day assessor-treasurer’s office.

He may find that being successful is, as they say, the best revenge.

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